Mike Rizzo acknowledges the Nationals may be sellers come trade deadline on Friday — but the team isn’t looking for a complete rebuild.
In his weekly interview Wednesday with the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, Rizzo described a smaller-scale sell-off that will help Washington rebound next season as a contender once again by trading end-of-contract talent now and building around a young core in the near future.
Rizzo said “there’s nobody that’s untradeable,” but that the return for certain players — Trea Turner or Juan Soto, for instance — would need to be no-brainers.
There are others, though, including ace Max Scherzer, who could be heading to a contender because they’re in the last year of their deals with the Nationals.
That’s a delicate balance to strike, avoiding a total purge that leaves a franchise in a lengthy rebuilding process. Instead, Rizzo views this trade deadline fire sale as an opportunity to retool quickly.
“I’m excited to attack this trade deadline,” Rizzo said. “It’s not the attack mode I want to be in. I like to be aggressive, I like to be buying, I like to be putting final pieces of the puzzle into winning a world championship. But this is as important. We have to get our ducks in order and we have to make good, intelligent trades and deals to retool this thing, to get back in the hunt and win some more championships. That’s our goal.”
For the past several seasons, Washington has been a buyer at the deadline. A trade for Daniel Hudson in 2019 helped bolster the back end of the Nationals bullpen for the World Series run, for instance. Before the pandemic-altered 2020 season, Washington had finished above .500 for eight straight seasons.
That run ended in 2020, and despite lofty expectations this season, the reality has turned out differently. The Nationals are 7.5 games back of the New York Mets in the National League East lead entering Wednesday, and they’re 46-54 overall.
“We’re not playing well enough to go out and acquire players to help us in the short term for this run,” Rizzo said. “We have to look at this thing on the global level and see where we’re at as an organization, where we have to improve to be the consistent winner that we’ve always been. That’s our job and that’s our goal.”
Rizzo pointed out how when he began as general manager in 2009, the team won just 59 games. The turnaround has been swift in the years since, and he doesn’t expect a down year in 2021 to knock Washington off the rails.
“We know how to do this thing, we know how to retool on the fly,” Rizzo said. “We always want to be competitive. Our ownership is very, very competitive. They give us the resources to do really good things. And we’re gonna make good, prudent deals to the deadline and improve our organization and ballclub. And our goal is to win now — it always has been, it always will be. But also, with an eye on the future to build a sustainable winner and hey, there’s no shame in taking a step back after a decade of winning, competitive baseball.”
Rizzo noted how Washington has received interest for Turner, the club’s 28-year-old star shortstop. Turner tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday night, but that hasn’t cooled trade rumors, not during a season in which he’s hitting .322. Rizzo said to move Turner — who’s still under contract next season, too — it would take an offer “we can’t refuse.”
He also admitted Scherzer could be on the move, with heavy interest in the 37-year-old starter sporting a 2.83 ERA. Scherzer has 10-5 rights, meaning he can sway any trade destination because he’s spent 10 years in the majors and five seasons with one team. His ideal destination appears to be a West Coast contender, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.
Whatever happens in the coming days, though, doesn’t change Rizzo’s vision for the team in the coming years.
“We’re here to compete,” Rizzo said. “We’re here to win championships. That’s what our goal will be next year. And we will attack that when the time comes. Right now is trade deadline time. We’re locked and loaded to help the franchise, and it’s going to be an exciting couple of days.”